“Nursery Wallpaper Sentimental to Dad”

Published in The Indianapolis Star, Sunday, December 3, 1995

I am logging day four now in stripping wallpaper from what used to be the nursery. The wallpaper, which I’m certain was described as strippable when we bought it, has been coming apart in pieces instead of hunks and sometimes only a layer at a time. That it is taking so long is not setting well with my youngest daughter, who is counting on me to transform this room from “a baby’s room” into “a big girl’s room” – my daughter, of course, being the big girl now.

There is no deliberate attempt on my part to make this job last any longer than is necessary. But to my surprise, I am not annoyed it has taken four days. In fact, I suspect there may be subconscious forces at work here.

This job has actually lasted longer than four days when you consider that my five-year-old has had me under duress for nearly a year now to change the appearance of the room. She can’t remember when it didn’t look this way. Even when she outgrew the crib, we just changed her over to a twin bed in this same room, reasoning that the simple pictures and lowercase letters on the wallpaper would take her through a few more years.

That time has past now, she says, arms folded. She already recognizes the alphabet, she tells me. She is studying the letter sounds in kindergarten, she says. I know this since we practice the sounds often. I also know she doesn’t quite have them down yet. (“Thursday begins with ‘F’,” she says. “No, it doesn’t,” I reply. “You know what ‘F’ sounds like. It’s not Fursday, is it?” She giggles in response. “It should be. I like Fursday,” she says.) But I can’t deny she’s getting there.

She makes me drawings that resemble cross-stitch samplers with alphabet lettering – though the ‘n’ is always backwards – and a message correctly printed that says she loves me. She prints her name and short phrases on cards we send to relatives.

Yes, she knows the alphabet well enough for this wallpaper to come down. But as I stare at the last few remaining panels, I am suddenly not so sure I want to scrape off the last little moons and blocks and cats and sailboats.

When I ask her if she wants the feminine wallpaper her sister has, she says no. She likes Disney stuff and wants something from Pocahontas. Or maybe it’s Beauty and the Beast. Or Aladdin. Depends on which day I ask her.

Her mother and I agree that we will paint the room a nice, neutral color and put up whatever border she chooses. Then, if in a year or so she changes her mind again, we can easily change the border. Eventually she will want what her sister has. Then I’ll have to repaper. I suspect I may not be in a hurry then, either.

The new paint and border will be my next project soon enough. I can remember when the next project was getting this child potty-trained. It wasn’t that long ago. I wonder how she could have grown so fast when I feel so unchanged. Then I get up from the kneeling position I’ve been in. My legs and knees remind me that I have aged, too.

The last panel comes off in pieces. I look at the torn shreds and suddenly think it would be nice to save a piece of it. One little strip with a pastel cat or sailboat. Something I can put back to remember by.

The sailboats are all torn, but I discover one cat that is salvageable. I brush my fingers over the back of the paper and feel the stickiness. Not something that would keep well in a box. I know it my heart it has to go.

Still holding it in one hand, I run the other hand over the soft yellow color I painted the walls above the chair-rail height wallpaper so many years ago and try to recapture the twenty-something mentality I had then. But it is gone for good. Like so many expectant fathers, I wanted time to move quicker.

It did, and now I wish it would slow down. No, more than that. I wish I could grip time and hold onto it, just like I can grip this wallpaper cat from the torn fragment of a disappearing nursery wall.

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